ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) – Algeria will pardon or reduce sentences for up to 3,000 convicted or suspected Islamic militants under a national reconciliation plan approved last year, Algerian media reported Thursday.
Around 1,000 people convicted on terrorism-related charges are eligible for presidential pardons, and legal action will be stopped against another 1,200 detained terror suspects, the daily Liberte reported, citing the Justice Ministry.
The national reconciliation plan, approved in a September referendum, limits pardons to those accused of supporting or financing terrorism and excludes any amnesty for those who had a more direct role in the country’s insurgency.
Nonetheless, the newspaper reported that about 800 people thought to have had a direct role in the bloodshed could have their sentences commuted or reduced.
“A death penalty could be reduced to life imprisonment,” the newspaper quoted senior Justice Ministry official Abelkader Sahraoui as saying on Wednesday.
The September referendum overwhelmingly approved the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, a personal initiative of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, that officially turned the page on the brutal Islamic insurgency that brought horror to this North African nation and left an estimated 150,000 dead.
Critics expressed concern that Bouteflika was trying to whitewash years of agony and that the charter would hinder the ability of victims to obtain real justice. There are also fears that releasing extremists and allowing them home from exile could plant the seeds of future violence.
The charter gave amnesty to a broad span of Islamic extremists, from fighters to those who provided logistical support. Legislation to implement the charter’s provisions became effective Wednesday, Liberte reported. It said judicial officials have been ordered to promptly apply its provisions, and that some were already on Wednesday ordering prisoner releases.
The insurgency started in 1992 when the army canceled a second round of voting in Algeria’s first multiparty legislative elections to thwart a likely victory by the now-banned fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front. Daily beheadings and massacres committed by Islamic extremists followed. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed. Government security forces also were accused of having at least a passive role in some of the bloodshed.